Classification of Cocaine

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There are a couple of odd things about the classification of cocaine in the US. The first is that it isn’t a Schedule I drug – the classification for heroin, ecstasy and LSD. Rather, it’s in the next lower class on the scale, along with morphine and amphetamines. The difference is whether or not a drug has a legitimate medical use. Cocaine does. It can be used as a local anesthetic in procedures involving the throat, nose or eyes.

The second odd thing on the classification of cocaine is that it is classified as a narcotic. The word narcotic comes from the same root as narcosis – having to do with sleep. Traditionally, narcotics were substances derived from opium. In fact morphine is named after the god of sleep. It makes sense to have heroin, morphine and codeine classified as narcotics, but why cocaine?

The answer comes from how drugs were historically regulated in the US. It goes back to 1914 and the Harrison Narcotic Tax Act. That national legislation used “opiates and cocaine” in the same category as narcotics and made many illegal. Since then, statutes have continued this misclassification.

The classification of cocaine is correctly classified as a type of stimulant. The drug acts on the central nervous system to cause elevated mood, increased activity and mental alertness with decreased appetite. The legal classification of cocaine also revolves around not just the actual chemical, but the form it comes in. Crack cocaine is illegal in all situations, where powdered and cocaine solution can be legally used in medicine.

Current laws for criminal prosecution do not distinguish between the amount of pure cocaine in a seized product – the entire weight of a mixture might be used to determine cocaine charges and sentencing, even when only a portion of the total is actually cocaine.

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